Raya Dunavevskaya 1979


A: The Capitalist Labor Process
Lecture 5
Part III. Chapters 7-9

In the “Labour process and the process of producing surplus value,” Marx deals with the labor process in general, or the production of use values, and the capitalist labor process, or the production of values and hence of surplus value. Here again, then, and in a much more profound sense because we are now concerned not merely with the appearance but with the essence, Marx brings us back to the two-f-old character of labor this time as exemplified in the two-fold character of the labor process, in general, and the capitalist labor process in particular:

“The labour process turned into the process by which the capitalist consumes labour power exhibits two characteristic phenomena. First, the laborer works under the control of the capitalist to whom his labour belongs...Secondly, the product is the property of the capitalist and not that of the laborer, its immediate producer.. .The labour process is a process between things that the capitalist has purchased, things that have become his property.” (p. 206) Note that in the labor process not only the means of production but labor power are the property of the capitalist.

Just as previously-Marx laid stress on the fact that value was the “active factor” so now he re-emphasizes that “Value is independent of the particular use-value by which it is borne, but it must be embodied in a use-value of some kind.” (p. 209)

We now learn why Mr. Moneybags bought labor power. “What really influenced him was the specific use-value which this commodity possesses of being a source not only of value but of more value than it has itself.” (p. 216) This is what transforms money into capital:

“This metamorphosis, this conversion of money into capital takes place both within the sphere of circulation and also out-ride it; within the circulation, because conditioned by the purchase of the labour-power in the market; outside the circulation, because what is done within it is only a stepping stone to the production of surplus value, a process which is entirely confined to the sphere of production.” (p. 217)

The antagonistic movement between use-value and value art-lies from the antagonism between useful labor and abstract labor. Elbe labor of the spinner that Marx uses as an example is a specific kind of labor which the laborer employs to affect an alteration in the material worked upon. The tailor out of cloth made a dress. In the case of abstract labor, on the other hand labor regardless of its specificity is under the direction of the capitalist and hence interested only in values. Thus the socially-necessary labor time becomes the all-dominant element. It serves however, to highlight the fact that only laying labor creates value, and the laborer does that in each instant and not merely in “the last hour.” (p. 218)

Moreover, the raw material too “serves now merely as an absorbent of a definite quantity of labour.” “Definite quantities of product, these quantities being determined by experience, now represent nothing but definite quantities of labour definite masses of crystallized labour time.” (p. 211)

Let us get clear in our minds how capital is created “By turning his money into commodities that serve as the material elements of a new product, and as factors in the labour process, by incorporating giving labour with their dead substance, the capitalist at the same time converts value, i.e., past materialised and dead labour into capital, into value big with value, a live monster that is fruitful and multiplies.” (p. 217) This is not a mere rhetoric phrase. Its significance is rooted deep in value production.

Constant and Variable Capital

To fully understand this “live monster that is fruitful and multiplies,” we must understand the role that constant capital and variable capital play. First, as to the meaning of the terms and their functions:

“The means of production on the one hand, labour power on the other, are merely the different modes of existence which the value of the original capital assumed when from being money it was transformed into the various factors of the labor process... The same elements of capital which, from the point of view of the labour process, present themselves respectively as the objective and subjective factors, as means of production and labour power, present themselves from the point of view of the process of creating surplus value, as constant and variable capital.” (p. 232-3)

To explain the all-pervading force in capitalist production, the self-expansion of value, Marx abstracts c (constant capital) and then shows that the newly-added value is both v (value) and s (surplus value). That is to say, the living laborer has created both his own subsistence and the surplus.

Constant capital is so called because it – means of production, raw and auxiliary material and the instruments of labor – undergoes no change in its magnitude in the process of production. It is reproduced in the newly-produced commodity, but it can never cede more value than it itself has.

Variable capital is so called because it – the money spent for .labor power – does undergo a change, in magnitude in the process of production, the living laborer having been made to work beyond the time necessary to reproduce himself. Thus the dress manufactured not only includes in it the cotton and wear and tear of machinery – components of value of another process of production – but the new labor of the worker, which means the value of his labor power plus a surplus. The worker by making a dress transferred the value of the machinery and cotton to the dress, at the same time adding new labor to it. This new labor includes the equivalent of his own subsistence and a surplus. Each commodity is composed of three elements; (1) constant capital, (2) variable capital and (3) surplus value.

So insistent is Marx in emphasizing that the new value includes both variable and surplus, so careful is he in emphasizing the self-expansion of value that he cites an example (p. 236) where constant capital is equal to zero, although, in reality, that would not be capitalism at all. (Parenthetically, it might be stated that the question of “new value” enters in the historic debate with Lasalle, and the student should here consult Critique of the Gotha Programme.)

In considering the rate of surplus value Marx warns us that “the rate of profit is no mystery, so soon as we know the laws of surplus value. If we reverse the process, we cannot comprehend either the one or the other.” (p. 239 Footnote) The rate of surplus value is “an exact expression for the degree of exploitation.” (p. 243)

“It is every bit as important,” be continues, “for a correct understanding of surplus value, to conceive it as a mere congelation of surplus labour-time, as nothing but materialised surplus labour, as it is for a proper comprehension of value, to conceive it as a mere congelation of so many hours of labour, as nothing but materialised labour.” (p. 241)

The section entitled “The Representation of the Components of the Value of the Product by Corresponding Proportional Parts of the Product Itself” should be studied very painstakingly. It is not wrong to divide any product, say twenty dresses, into various groups of say, five, five and ten dresses (or to divide them into the time it took to produce them) which represent the produce “equal in value” to the constant capital, variable capital and surplus value. This can be done for the purpose of simplification. But in reality, each dress contains c, v and s; otherwise such a division either of the commodity or the time it took to produce it, says Marx “can also be accompanied by very barbarian notions, more especially in the heads of those who are as much interested, practically, in the process of making value beget value, as they are in misunderstanding that process theoretically.” (p. 247-8) Witness Senior’s concept of the “last hour” (the 11th) in which supposedly all surplus value is produced. Therefore, any shortening of the working day which would eliminate the 11th hour, says he, would rob the capitalist of all profit.


1. What are-the two characteristic phenomena by which the general labor process is turned into a process where the capitalist consumes labor power?

2. How are value and use-value inter-related? How antagonistic?

3. What does the expression, “different modes of existence of value” signify? Define constant capital, variable capital.

4. What is the specific use-value of labor power?

5. What distinguishes the process of creating surplus value from the labor process in general?

6. Draw the distinction between necessary labor and necessary labor, time.

7. What is the rate of surplus value? In what degree, if any, does this differ from the degree of exploitation?

8. That is the distinction between various economic forms of society? How is the extraction of surplus value different under capitalism than under feudalism? Is surplus labor characteristic only of capitalist society? . Is surplus value?

9. What is wrong with the sentence; “The whole net profit is derived from the last hour"? Does the worker produce surplus value only in the last hour? Which hour? Every instant?

10. How is the thirst for surplus labor in capitalist society distinguished from other class societies?

11. Tell the value and the danger in representing the components of the value of a product by the corresponding proportional parts of the product itself?

12. What does Marx mean when he says that such a representation can be accompanied “by very barbarian notions"?

(Note to teacher: Some of these questions anticipate the following lecture; hence, if there are any difficulties in getting the answers, delay asking the questions until after the Lecture 6.)